How to be a Disaster Volunteer


Forum Chief
This is for those who are interested in becoming part of a disaster team since it sparked such debate on this forum.

The emotional side of being part of a large scale disaster is something to consider. Right now the internet is full of stories from EMT(P)s who are stating they can not sleep and how they now have what might be considered PTSD from going to Haiti. There is a good chance they were not adequately prepared for such an endeavor and probably should not have gone. Some of those on this forum could easily be part of that group after reading their posts on various threads about how they are not able to come to terms with death, especially with kids involved, in EMS here in the U.S. when it is just one patient at a time.

This article is very informative with good advice.

Here is a small portion of the article. Read the rest at the link posted to find out the legit organizations to volunteer with.

1) If you are not within two hours by limited ground transportation AND do not have a previous relationship with an appropriate organization inside the disaster area, you will not be of any use in the first 12 to 24 hours of any given major incident. You will end up being part of the problem.

Please DO NOT head into the disaster area on your own and then try to find a way to help. This leads to congestion and disorganization in some areas and inability to get care to other areas. Much time and effort have had to be diverted from projects that are more important during the Twin Towers situation and the responses to Hurricane Katrina to clear out well-meaning but uncoordinated, unsupplied and unneeded volunteers.

2) Many, if not most, of these positions will be volunteer, and you may be responsible for your own costs of transportation, if not your own food. If your personal finances can’t handle those costs in addition to the loss of your normal income, then stay at your regular job (they also serve who stand and wait), and offer financial support one of the various organizations providing relief.

3) You are going into an area of devastation, where conditions are primitive at best, and feral at the worst. You are potentially putting your tender body in a life-threatening situation for the benefit of others. You are at risk for personal injury, disability, disease and even death. Your personal insurance will try to invoke any "act of war" clauses in your policies if you are injured or die.

You may also find yourself in a position where the local officials want you to pull out and leave patients behind without care. Consider how you will respond emotionally to that problem.

4) You have become accustomed to instant communications, including telephones, electronic medical records, fax machines, courier services, television, radio, and many others. Most, probably all, of these means of communicating with your local colleagues and to back home may be lost.


Forum Chief
Sounds remarkably similar to many of the posts.


Airfield Operations
While acknowledging that many of us would do anything we could, there's a practical side of it, too. Will your employer get on board with you departing for an indefinite period of time to go to a disaster zone? Will you have to find coverage for your shifts for an extended period at 3 a.m. because you were just mobilized for a 0500 departure? If it's closer to home (blizzard, tropical system, tornado, etc) how will your employer respond if your team gets mobilized to a location a couple of hours/states away while there is widespread devastation in your local area and you are expected to be there? It was things like this that made me decide to forego involvement in any type of CERT response, since I would already be involved with either my FD (primary) employer or part-time (EMS) employer. Don't get me wrong, I think that the work these teams do is invaluable and needed, and I mean no offense to anyone who is involved in any type of disaster response work. On the other hand, some of us have a tendency to get involved in too many capacities, which just ends up hurting everyone. There you have it, my .02 is now spent. ;)


Premium Member
Being that I've stayed out of this discussion for the majority of the arguements, I figure that this might be time to put my .02 in... Most people do not belong in these kind of incidents and arenas. Thank you Vent for bringing this component to light. A little background, to why I feel this way. I was on a team that was in New Orleans during the looting and rioting, as well as in downtown while the convention center and superdome were on TV. This minor event caused some team members to have recurring nightmares and a form of PTSD for months after the event. In Haiti, people live in conditions similar to NOLA after Katrina, as an everyday occurance. The destruction and despair is difficult to fathom, much less prepare for. The security situation is tenuous to say the least. The majority of EMS providers do not have a background in sustainment and long term stabilization, much less a comprehensive knowledge to be able to maintain themselves in a disease rich environment like Haiti. Are your vaccinations adequate for that environment? Do you carry, or even know what sustainment/prophylactic medications and antibiotics you need to have on your own person to keep from becoming a patient yourself? If you become a patient, who will take care of you? How will you get home? Do you have a robust enough of a team to provide for your security...? (scene is definitely unsafe...) How are you going to treat people? Are you going to be responsible for transportation of the medical supplies? How many people will you be set up to help, and how would you be resupplied? There are positions out there and I'm sure that someone will probably figure out how to get down there. However, I have been invited, and took a long look at the security and environmental concerns in that area, and felt that no amount of money would be sufficient to that level of risk. Unless you're embedded in a US Gov't team, or another very highly qualified and extremely well supplied team, you will be part of the problem, not the solution. Then just remember you'll have the psych/emo issues to deal with after you're done... Also remember, EMT 101, the scene is not safe....


Still crazy but elsewhere


Forum Captain
Had an FF from our station go over, he served LEO for years and has been in public saftey and USCG before I was born. He also is a very smart and well organized. He planed out his food intake, water consumption, down the the bare minimum. They were traveling on buses, going to gang memeber run areas. So bad you could set down a half drank bottle water it was stolen, or used medical gloves anything gone. Military was not there, the sat. phone the gave with emergancy numbers did not work or were busy. If you are ready for that and can afford to bring your own food, water, clothes, even your own medical supplies then have at it. It is no joke there is no protection for you, and the conditions are worse than mexico city. good luck and be safe to those that will be going over.


Forum Crew Member
I have been asked to put another team together and will do so in open forum...


ps thanks vff.. Bella Vista all the way...